Australia has the world’s highest rate of skin cancer, with two out of every three people battling the disease before they reach 70 years of age. Why is this so? One of the common culprits of skin cancer is excessive exposure to ultraviolet radiation, which people get from sun exposure. And the issue is that not everyone understands how dangerous sun overexposure and UV radiation can be.
UV radiation is the strongest around noon; the sun gives off its strongest light from 10:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m. When it comes to seasons, the sun is strongest during the summer, as this is when Australia is closer to the sun (due to the earth’s orbit).
Scientists have observed that there has been a gradual depletion of the earth’s ozone layer. As this happens, the atmosphere’s protective filters weaken, allowing more of the UV radiation to get to the earth’s surface.
According to World Health Organisation, “It is estimated that a 10 per cent decrease in ozone levels will result in an additional 300,000 non-melanoma and 4,500 melanoma skin cancer cases.”
5 Common Misconceptions about the Sun and Skin Cancer
Perhaps you wear sunscreen every day or you avoid getting sunburned, and that’s great. But if you still believe some of the most common myths out there regarding the sun and skin cancer, then you could be putting yourself at risk for melanoma or some other form of skin cancer.
Being informed is vital in order for us to be able to make smart choices, especially when it comes to our health. The following are myths about the sun and skin cancer we all need to debunk once and for all.
#1 “The Sun Is Safe on Cloudy/Rainy/Colder Days”
The sun emits UV radiation all the time, and it’s not related to temperature. While the sun’s heat may not be as intense on cloudy or rainy days, it is still present. So it is possible to get a sunburn even on cool days. UV radiation can pierce through clouds, which can be more intense because of the reflection off the bottom of the clouds. Remember, a level over three is very dangerous, no matter what the cloud cover may be.
Check the SunSmart UV alert daily to know the strength of the UV rays in your area.
#2 “I Don’t Need to Apply Sunscreen If My Cosmetics Contain SPF”
Whilst applying foundations and moisturisers with SPF provides protection, they often contain a much smaller amount of SPF. So you still need to apply sunscreen when you’re heading outdoors. Experts recommend putting on SPF 30+ sunscreen.
#3 “Only sunbathers get skin cancer”
The fact is anyone can get skin cancer. Whilst it’s true that those who spend more time out in the sun are at a higher risk of developing skin cancer, anyone can be exposed to intense levels of UV radiation just by walking the dog or enjoying a picnic outside.
The latest research revealed that among adults, 50% of sunburn occurred during everyday activities, which means most skin damage from UV radiation is unintentional (Cancer Council Australia 2017 via AIHW).
#4 “Skin Cancer Isn’t Dangerous”
According to Cancer Australia, in 2019 alone, nearly 1,800 people could die of melanoma skin cancer. During the same period of time, more than 15,000 new cases of skin cancer will be diagnosed. Skin cancer is dangerous, and detection is challenging to the untrained eye. But when detected early, it can be effectively treated.
#5 “There’s No Difference between UVA, UVB, and UVC Rays”
The sun gives off three types of UV radiation: UVA, UVB, and UVC. Being exposed to these can harm your skin, and each type of radiation affects your skin in a different way. Let’s discuss each one below.
- UVA. UVA rays have the longest wavelengths, and 95% of its radiation reaches the earth’s surface. Compared to UVB, UVA penetrates the skin more deeply — it enters as deep as the second layer of the skin, causing wrinkles and premature skin ageing. It’s also used in tanning beds, which research has established to cause “a 50% increase in the risk of basal cell carcinoma and a more than 100% increase in the risk of squamous cell carcinoma.”
- UVB. This type of ray damages our epidermis. In fact, it’s because of UVB that we experience sunburn and skin reddening as it’s known to burn the vulnerable skin in 15 minutes. It’s also crucial to know that UVB is strongly linked to the development of skin cancer.
- UVC. UVC is the most dangerous type of radiation, but it is filtered by the ozone layer and doesn’t reach the earth’s surface — therefore, it can’t damage the skin.
Why Are Australia’s Skin Cancer Rates Skyrocketing?
Australia is touted as the leader in skin cancer diagnosis in the world. There are many reasons why Australians are at a higher risk of developing skin cancer than either their European or North American counterparts.
One of the reasons is the country’s location. Because the southern hemisphere has less ozone to block dangerous sun rays, and the orbit of the earth takes us closer to the sun (especially during the summer months), Australians are in a unique position of experiencing too much sun exposure.
While many may believe that it is safe to go outside on cloudy days, in the early morning, or during the wintertime without worrying about slathering on sunscreen, the fact is that the sun always poses an amount of danger to the skin. But that does not mean you can’t enjoy the outdoors; it is just important to take certain safety precautions, like —
- Wearing protective covering like hats, sunglasses, sleeves, and sunscreen with about SPF 30
- Limiting your time outdoors between 10:00 a.m. and 3:00 p.m. to avoid coming in contact with the strongest UV rays of the day
Check Your Skin Regularly
Too much sun exposure and UV radiation will burn the skin and damage the skin cells’ DNA, increasing one’s risk for developing melanoma and other types of skin cancer.
No matter how much we love to be out in the sun, it is vital that we are safe from the dangers of sun-induced skin cancer. One of the best ways is to do this is to have regular skin checks to detect early signs of trouble.
To the untrained eye, it can be difficult to identify the troublesome spot, especially because melanoma does not always conform with the usual signs associated with it.
Detecting melanoma at its earliest stages is the key to survival. Research shows that the five-year survival rate for stage 1A and stage 1B melanoma is 97% and 92% respectively.
So if you have haven’t had a full body skin check in a while we recommend getting checked and getting peace of mind. See your GP or a skin cancer and melanoma detection specialist clinic like MoleMap. You can visit our website to find a skin clinic near you.